FutureSPORT: Network Execs Keep Finger Squarely on Pulse of Industry

As 4K and even 8K production continues to generate buzz, conversations at trade shows and industry conferences tend to center on hypotheticals: what compression schemes we might need, what codecs might work, how we might store and repurpose content. Conversations like these are pivotal in moving the industry forward. However, all too often, improvements to today’s workflows are often overlooked.

On Wednesday, more than 175 professionals gathered at the New York Hilton Hotel for SVG’s annual FutureSPORT, which balanced discussions of where we’re going with those focused on where we are now.

From left to right: SVG's Ken Kerschbaumer moderated the session, joined by CBS Sports' Davis, Fox Sports' Gralnik, YES Network's Freiman, MLB Network's Rittenberg, and Fox Sports' Steinberg

From left to right: SVG’s Ken Kerschbaumer moderated the session, joined by CBS Sports’ Davis, Fox Sports’ Gralnik, YES Network’s Freiman, MLB Network’s Rittenberg, and Fox Sports’ Steinberg

In one of the day-long event’s first panel discussions, leading execs from major sports networks explained how they are addressing today’s needs, which often include multiple platforms, screens, and remote locations.

“We’re looking at — as much as we can — file-based technology now and a lot more ways to better use bandwidth,” said Scott Davis, VP, broadcast operations, CBS Sports. “A lot of IP applications, ways we can move content better not only within our facility but also between our remotes. With multiple football packages now and partners [on] March Madness, the ability to move content around easily and manipulate it across multiple platforms is a key thing for us.”

Sharing content between the production facility and remote locations, as well as between remote locations, means simplifying workflows, sticking to compatible file formats, and getting every team on the same page.

“Our work is primarily remote-truck–based, and we’re always trying to find solutions that eventually bring that video to the truck in a usable file form,” said Ron Gralnik, VP, Fox Sports Regional Networks. “We’re using every and all means for file-based upload/download that we can find that can be easily downloaded and then used in our trucks.

“But there are so many other factors in what we’re doing to try to bring live television to our viewers at home,” he continued. “We do 4,000 events regionally a year so we have to be economically feasible but, at the same time, creative in how we do it.”

Steve Rittenberg, director of engineering, MLB Network, shared how his network’s decision to expand its EVS infrastructure benefits both the network’s studio productions and remote crews.

“We can leverage a lot of what we have in the studio out to remote locations, doing file transfers from studio out to truck and then truck back to studio [and] eliminating some of the time that was needed in edit,” he said. “A lot of the efficiencies we try to bring in with a 10-gig infrastructure, as well as just trying to leverage the archive that we’ve got, [are intended to ensure] that, in production, there’s [readily available] footage when [producers need it].”

For YES Network, installing Replay Technologies’ freeD system at Yankee Stadium was an ideal way to invest in a new technology that would benefit every home game for the viewer. Although 3D replays like those generated by freeD might have seemed futuristic a few years ago, the system has gained traction across multiple sports and favor with fans.

“One of the problems from a production standpoint is to find new technology that enhances the experience for the viewer and not disrupt the viewing experience,” said Woody Freiman, VP, production and programming, YES Network. “One of the things we focused on last year was what we called YES View. We partnered with Replay Technologies to give you a replay that could morph into any dimension, any viewpoint that you wanted — a 360 viewpoint of a play on the field.”

As network execs look to new ways to draw the viewer closer to the action, technologies like freeD give the at-home viewer a unique experience not accessible by fans in the venue. And this is where 4K and even 8K currently factors into today’s workflows.

“We got involved in it in an effort to bring clarity to replays,” explained Jerry Steinberg, technology consultant, Fox Sports. “So, if there was a disputed call, if anything questionable happened on the field — no matter what the sport — we were able to bring it to the viewer in an effort to bring the viewer closer to the playing field.”

Looking toward the future, the use of better-than-HD technologies outside of zoom and image extraction isn’t clear. Will 4K pave the way for 8K, or will technology vendors and networks opt to leapfrog 4K and wait for 8K? And will we ever have an infrastructure — and a demand — to support the added bits and higher frame rates?

Needless to say, as long as 4K and 8K garner buzz, the conversation will continue.

“I think the fact that 8K is out there now makes you want to think about 8K rather than 4K,” said Steinberg. “And there are things that we haven’t even seen yet. … Whether it’s the Oculus Rift [virtual-reality headset for 3D gaming] and real immersive viewing, that stuff’s going to start to filter into the marketplace over the next couple of years. And it’s fascinating.”

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